Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Ireland, Land of Saints and Scholars: Ireland Unit Study

Over the years, our homeschool group has hosted many events. By far, one of the biggest hits was a St. Patrick's Day party. I had the good fortune of meeting an Irish seminarian studying nearby who enjoyed dressing up as St. Patrick and I invited him to speak to the children. Fully clad as Bishop Patrick with miter, crook, and robes, the children listened spellbound to his enchanting Irish accent as he talked about St. Patrick, Ireland, and more. After "St. Patrick" spoke and visited with the children, we closed the party with green frosted shamrock-shaped cookies and punch.

Here are some books, activities, and information to create your own Ireland unit study.

A great place to start is by locating Ireland on a map or globe. Books, videos or DVDs about the country can help create a visual picture of the breathtakingly beautiful countryside, fascinating cities, and rugged shoreline.

To get a feel for the culture, Irish dancing with authentic costumes and lively Celtic music is fun to watch. If there are no opportunities in your area, Riverdance is a popular Irish dance and Celtic music video. There are many other Celtic music CDs as well.

Suggested projects include drawing a map and flag of the country, creating a diorama of a scene from an Irish saint's life, making a timeline of Ireland's history (including Christianity's arrival and saints), and/or creating a salt dough map. An absolute must is to look at a book or video about the Book of Kells, painstakingly created by Medieval monks.

Internet Research
For some high impact images and interesting Irish tidbits, research on the internet includes looking up the history of the Celtic cross (specifically St. Martin's Cross or Moone High Cross), beautiful Catholic treasures like the Book of Kells, the Book of Durrow, or Lindisfarne Gospels, Catholic sites such as Lindisfarne abbey, Irish heroes like Red Hugh O'Donnell or Brian Boru, unusual Irish objects, like a coracle, or the life of an Irish saint. You can also listen to someone speak in Gaelic on the internet or purchase audio CDs. For research on Ireland, St. Patrick, St. Brigid of Ireland, and other Irish saints, check out New Advent.

750 BC Celts live in Hallstatt area of Austria

432 AD St. Patrick continues conversion of Ireland begun by Palladius. After 30 years St. Patrick converts almost all of Ireland.

463 St. Patrick, 373-463 (461, dates vary)

Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland by Tomie de Paola, Gr. K-3
Patrick, Brave Shepherd of the Emerald Isle, CCC (DVD). All ages.
Heroes of God's Church by P. Henry Matimore, "St. Patrick," Gr. 4-Up.

500-795 Golden Age of Irish monasticism (Approximate). Peace, learning, and holiness end with the Viking raids.

Brigid's Cloak by Bryce Milligan, Gr. K-3.
Once-Upon-A-Time Saints: Faith Tales for Children by Ethel Pochocki, Gr. 4-Up.
Brendan the Navigator by Jean Fritz, Gr. 3-6.
The Brendan Voyage: Across the Atlantic in a Leather Boat by Tim Severin, A reenactment of the voyage in 1976. Gr. 9-Up.
Across a Dark and Wild Sea by Don Brown, Gr. K-3.
The Man Who Loved Books by Jean Fritz, Illus. by Trina Schart Hyman, Gr. K-3.
Saint Colum and the Crane by Eva K. Betz (Neumann Press), Gr. 3-6.
Heroes of God's Church by Fr. P. Henry Matimore, "St. Columba," Gr. 4-Up.
Fingal's Quest by Madeline Polland (Emmanuel Books), Gr. 4-Up.

800 Book of Kells, c. 800

Color Your Own Book of Kells by Marty Noble, Dover Publications
The Book of Kells, Selected Plates in Full Color by Blanche Cirker, Dover
The Book of Kells, The Work of Angels? by Kulture (video).

1066 Normans defeat Saxons in England

1069 King Henry II marches Anglo-Norman troops into Ireland. Henry declares himself Lord of of Ireland, and disposes the Irish chieftains, granting land to his Norman followers. The Normans pass a law that no Irishman could be promoted within the Church. Other orders; however, enter Ireland at this time (Cistercians, Franciscans, Dominicans).

1534 King Henry VII enacts the The Act of Supremacy. Under Tudor rulers, thousands of Catholics suffer imprisonment, torture and death.

1649 Cromwell Terror. Oliver Cromwell, the Puritan ruler of England, massacres thousands or sends them as slaves to work on sugar plantations in the West Indies.

1845-49 Irish potato famine. More than 1 million perish and survivors (1 million) emigrate to America.

1905 Sinn Fein ("We ourselves") Movement for Ireland to regain home rule.

1916 Easter Rebellion.

"Easter 1916," poem by William Butler Yeats, Gr. 9-Up.

1919-21 Members of Sinn Fein declare Ireland a republic.

1921 England agrees to a truce; Ireland is given dominion status and called the Irish Free State. Six counties of Northern Ireland remain part of Britain.

1937 Irish Free State adopts a new constitution.

1949 Ireland is established as an  independent republic.

Celtic History

Martell, Hazel. The Celts (See Through History). Topics include The First Celts, Clothes, Daily Life, House and Home, Warriors and Warfare, The Coming of Christianity, etc. You may wish to preview a Roman statue. Gr. 5-Up.

Spencer, Shannon. Countries of the World Ireland. Offers an overview of the history, geography, culture, etc. of Ireland. Gr. 4-Up.

Saints, Ireland (Collections).

Twenty Tales of Irish Saints by Alice Curtayne. Sophia Institute Press, Gr. 4-Up.
Celtic Heritage Saints by Keaney, Marian. Gr. 4-Up.

Fairy Tales--Ireland

Gr. K-3.
The Ring of Truth: An Original Irish Tale by Teresa Bateman.
The King Of Ireland's Son by Brendan Behan
Finn MacCoul and His Fearless Wife: A Giant of a Tale from Ireland by Robert Byrd.
Fin M'coul: The Giant of Knockmany Hill by Tomie dePaola
The Irish Cinderlad by Shirley Climo.
Fair, Brown & Trembling: An Irish Cinderella Story by Jude Daly.
Jamie O'Rourke and the Big Potato by Tomie De Paola.
Tales from Old Ireland by by Malachy Doyle.
Brave Margaret : An Irish AdventureThe Leprechaun's Gold by Pamela Duncan Edwards.                
Prince Boghole by Erik Christian Haugaard.                        
Saint Patrick and the Peddler by Margaret Hodges
The Children of Lir by Shelia MacGill-Callahan.
Tim O'Toole and the Wee Folk Gerald McDermott.
Brave Margaret : An Irish Adventure by Robert D. San Souci.
Saint Ciaran: The Tale of a Saint of Ireland by Gary D. Schmidt.

Gr. 4-Up
Colum Padric. Treasury of Irish Folklore.
Jacobs, Joseph. Celtic Fairy Tales or other titles.
Kavanaugh, Herminie Templeton. Darby O'Gill and the Good People; Darby O' Bill and the Crocks of God and Other Irish Tales. Sophia Institute Press.

Ireland--Juvenile Fiction
The Leprechaun's Gold                                                                                                        
Gr. K-3.
Leprechaun Gold by Teresa Bateman.                                     
The Wishing of Biddy Malone by Joy Cowley.
O'Sullivan Stew by Hudson Talbott
A Fine St. Patrick's Day by Susan Wojciechowski.

Gr. 3-6.
The Irish Twins by Lucy Fitch Perkins.

Gr. 4-Up.                                                       
Sword of Clontarf  by Charles Brady, Hillside Education.
Beorn the Proud Polland, Madeleine. Bethlehem Books.
Children of the Red King by Madeleine Polland. Holt, 1959, OP.
Fingal's Quest by Madeleine Polland. Available from Emmanuel Books.
Flame Over Tara by Madeleine Polland. Clarion Book, OP.
Red Hugh Prince of Donegal by Robert T. Reilly, Bethlehem Books.
The Cottage at Bantry Bay, Francie on the Run,  Pegeen by Hilda Van Stockum, Hilda. Bethlehem Books.

Gr. 7-Up.
Anson's Way by Gary Schmidt.
Pangur Ban by Mary Stolz

King Lear (Folger Shakespeare Library) by William Shakespeare, Gr. 9-Up.

Building the Family Cookbook by Susanne Fowler. Includes biographies of many Irish saints and tasty dishes to commemorate the day. e.g. Potato Soup and Irish Soda Bread for St. Patrick's Day.

Mel Bay's Complete Irish Fiddle Player, or How to Play Irish Fiddle DVD.
Singing in Irish Gaelic by Mary McLaughlin (book and CD)
Our Lady of Victory School has various Irish songbooks, Irish Tin Whistle or Irish Penny Whistle instruments, songbooks, and more.
Library. Check your local library for Celtic music CDs.

Irish Folk Dancing
Irish Dancing Made Easy (video).
Riverdance, the show: featuring the original Dublin cast (video).
Riverdance - Live From New York City

More Activities and Resources
Dover Publications offers many Irish-themed activity books, including Color Your Own Book of Kells, Celtic Design Coloring Book, Celtic Art: Methods of Construction, Celtic Stencil Designs, and many more, including CD-Roms. Visit Dover Publications.

Parts of this unit study first appeared in Heart & Mind, Vol. 3, No. 3, Fall, 2006. OP. Our local library, connected with other county libraries, offered many of the books listed in this unit study.

Happy Reading!

Updated: 6/25/2010
New book added.
Count Your Way Through IrelandCount Your Way Through Ireland  by Jim Haskins.
While teaching us to count, this non-fiction picture book takes us through Ireland with information about its history (i.e. round tower and Celtic cross), way of life (music, sports, foods, such as potatoes, corned beef, etc.), important figures in history (St. Patrick), handcrafted goods, geography (divided into four provinces), and more.

The Secret of the Ruby RingUpdated: 7/20/2010
New book added.
 The Secret of the Ruby Ring by Yvonne MacGrory
Review posted here. 
A modern Irish girl is transported back into time.

Updated: 9/10/10
New books added.

Harp O' Gold by Teresa Bateman. An Irish minstrel wishes for a harp of Gold and after he receives it, he finds that his dream is not what he thought it would be.

Fiona's Luck by Teresa Bateman. Ah, that clever Fiona, she not only outwits her neighbors, but the king of the leprechauns, too.

King Puck by Michael Garland. When Finny, his goat, speaks to him one day, Seamus enters him in The King Puck Festival and wins. What a fortune! You'll have to read it to find out the prize.


  1. Thank you for sharing this, Elizabeth. I still have the original article and found it so wonderful.

  2. What a wonderful compilation of resources! There is one book on Saint Patrick that you might consider adding to your list--it's not a fairy tale, but a short life story of Patrick's life, based on the information that you find in his Confessions.

    The Life of Saint Patrick: Enlightener of the Irish, written and illustrated by Zachary Lynch. It's a wonderful picture book for little ones

  3. Thanks for sharing! God Bless, Elizabeth